April 30, 2010

Arcana - An Introduction

I want to introduce you to another of my favorite independent soap companies - Arcana Soaps and Perfumes. Julia makes some outstanding cold-processed soap, using scent blends that owe more to perfumery than traditional soap-making.

These are fabulous soaps with a smooth, creamy lather, though the individual properties of each vary with the specific oils used in the individual recipe (i.e.: macadamia, black cocoa butter, etc.). They feel heavy in your hand and look beautiful stacked on your vanity or arranged in a pretty bowl. (I keep them in a pretty hatbox to conserve the scent, but then again I'm a soap freak and need to hoard a stash to last me through the Apocalypse.) The labels are all unique and reflect the concept of the scent blend, and are so pretty that I often hesitate in breaking one open.

Then there are the scrubs, which are generally only made during the cooler months of the year, in order to preserve the luscious texture during shipping.
These are definitely not lightweight. They are thick and scoop-able like cake batter, loaded with oils and butters and scrubby bits to smooth away dry, crackly skin. I confess that I rarely use them in the summer, but I break them out when the weather starts cooling. I like to stock up for the winter months, and I've found that a little goes a long way, as these are potently moisturizing and quite scrubby.

The scent is strong and beautiful in the shower, but doesn't stay too long on the skin afterward, which I prefer as it doesn't interfere with my scent selection for the day.

And then we come to, of course, the perfumes. Hand-blended from both natural and synthtic essences , they range from the straightforward to the subtle and textured. They also, more than any other perfume oil I've tried, improve markedly with aging. Frequently it's only after a year that they become utterly seamless and more complex, as notes mature and meld together in beautiful ways.

The labels are also darling, both for more limited creations and ones in the regular line-up. This is a small example:

Arcana also offers a small selection of facial care, which I have yet to try.

April 25, 2010

BPAL - Four Seasons Inquisition (vintage)

As promised in BPTP intro post, I will be reviewing some of the products from the Trading Post, as well as vintage collections that are no longer currently available, but that give you an idea of what BPAL is about. This is a review of a past Inquisition.

The Inquisition is a BPAL/BPTP tradition where sets of products (usually a perfume and a corresponding shirt) are available for sale, but the trick is that you have to submit a plea for which version you want and the Trading Post 'imps' decide which one you will receive. (Though of course they will honor outright requests. They're not mean, those imps.) In the case of the Four Seasons Inquisition, the sets included a perfume, an atmosphere spray and a bath oil - by far my favorite out of all the combinations.

The labels were all absolutely gorgeous and of course the scents themselves were divine. They were not identical across the pray, bath oil and perfume versions, but rather each set contained scent blends that were truly evocative of the season and suited to their medium. 

ATMOSPHERIC SPRAY - Tuberose, linden blossom, jasmine, rosehip, oakmoss, pink heather, white rose, and sugar cane, with plum, lemon tree, and orange blossoms.
BATH OIL - Lemon peel, tuberose, sugar cane, plum blossom, white gardenia, dandelion, violet leaf, jonquil, iris, sandalwood, Damascus rose, white grapefruit, mint, and sweet orange.
PERFUME - Plum blossom, tuberose, oakmoss, violet leaf, jasmine, ylang ylang, lemon peel, orange blossom, and lemon peel.

ATMOSPHERIC SPRAY - Nepalese amber, vanilla infused amber, golden musk,

sandalwood, orange rind, ginger, frankincense, and cardamom.
BATH OIL - Carnation, golden amber, honey myrtle, beeswax absolute, summer peach,

cardamom, and vanilla orchid.
PERFUME - Nepalese amber, vanilla infused amber, golden musk, sandalwood, golden lily, sunflower, and honey myrtle.

ATMOSPHERIC SPRAY - Fig leaf, patchouli, black tea, and bonfire smoke.
BATH OIL - Sage, myrrh, patchouli, molasses, sweetgrass, cedar, and cinnamon sugar.
PERFUME - Hawthorn, fig, myrrh, carnation, toasted almond, red and green apple, patchouli, wood smoke, and Indian musk.

ATMOSPHERIC SPRAY - Snow-laden pine boughs, sleet, white sandalwood, cedar, winter orchid, and honeysuckle.
BATH OIL - Stargazer lily, white musk, winter orchid, white grapefruit, fir needle, star jasmine, citron, and mint.
PERFUME - White musk, winter plum, pine wood, benzoin, orchid, and stargazer lily.
The Primavera scents are a riotous explosion of florals - but a field full of flowers, not a hothouse, in that the air is rich with the scent of dozens of blooms, but there is a breeze throughout. Floral, sweet, with a faint underlay of greenery and fresh citrus top notes, but not cloying or overwhelming. These are still not blends suited to anyone who does not appreciate florals, but for someone who does - pure gorgeousness.

L'Estate are all sensual, languid scents. They are evocative of sultry summer evening, the air hot and humid, the light deeply golden. Ambers and resins dominate these blends, with the perfume having the most mellow character, the spray and oil spicier in nature. I think some people would be fearful of wearing such heavy, oriental-style scents in the summer, but I think they deserve to be appreciated in their full glory, as they expand in the deep, permeating heat. These are very sexual scents, and I greatly favor wearing the bath oil to bed as a post-shower moisturizer.

L'Autunno sound like more masculine-friendly blends, and indeed they can be appreciated most readily by menfolk for their smoky, earthy character. But unless you aggressively dislike wood notes or patchouli, I think they are universal fragrances. They are all balanced very well between the sweeter notes we associate with fall (be it the harvest fruit notes of the perfume, or the molasses and cinnamon sugar of the bath oil) and those deeper, darker notes that are so central to a season that sees the light dwindle and the earth fall into repose. They smell like the best pies, the best walks in the woods, the best gleeful leaps into leaf piles you can remember from childhood.

L'Inverno features some of the most delicately pretty and ephemeral scents yet, with pale musks, dainty florals and cool notes of pine and snow. I don't know how a blend with pine can smell so feminine and lovely, but there you go. The atmosphere spray is perhaps the heaviest on those wintry wood notes, green and crackly and perfect for my home at the Holidays, since I can't have a real tree.

I absolutely adore these blends, and only regret not getting doubles.

April 20, 2010

TheBalm - Shady Lady palette

I love makeup (obviously). I adore vintage. I respect and admire women who create their business from the ground up. Is it any wonder I'm a huge fan of The Balm?

The style is frothy retro, with just enough animal-print to balance out the pink, and a sleeker look than the kitsch evinced by a brand like Benefit.

The product that sucked me into the brand was the Shady Lady palette. Priced at just about 40$ at the time, it's a collection of nine absolutely gorgeous eyeshadows that represent a very practical range of shades. Nothing too flashy or bright, but a great selection of mid to deep colors that can create both a daytime-appropriate and more intense looks.
There is not a failed color among them. These are swatched on bare, primer-free skin - the pigmentation is just THAT good. In fact, with the dark green and dark blue, it was almost too much pigmentation - they are fantastic for a smoky eye or as eyeliner, and otherwise require a judicious hand.

The texture of all of them is both dense and silky, though not too creamy, and they wear beautifully.

If I were to voice any criticism, it would be that I wish there were more light colors for highlight purposes, and that this palette is unfortunately no longer available.

However! The Balm did recently come out with Shady Lady 2.0, which does indeed feature more light colors, as well as a few more vivid shades. Each of the eyeshadows in the original palette are also still available in individual form, so all is not lost. (In fact, that's a great way of offering customers a chance to try the range - smaller pans, very reasonable price - and then still have them available for purchase in single form.)

April 14, 2010

Villainess Soaps- An Introduction

One of my favorite indie bath companies - run by one of my favorite people.Villainess  is an artisanal soap e-tailer like few others. Unlike many soapmakers who rely on standard, reliable fragrance formulations, Brooke blends up original scent blends to evoke unique concepts, and then translates them into soaps, scrubs, lotions and perfumes. Her style has always been edgier than cute, but always with an undertone of humour - gunmetal-Victorian chic that's just this side of steampunk.

Her soaps are absolutely to die for. Take Krakatoa:
Krakatoa - Flashes of exotic foliage - coconut, banana, papaya, dewfruit, mango - amidst slightly more domestic fruits - nectarine, red apple, peach, plums, pears, and raspberries - and an explosive burst of citrus - mandarin orange, pineapple, lemon, and tangerine. Light musk, salted driftwood, sugar cane, and dry sandalwood work to ground our island paradise.

Or in other words: NOMNOMNOM.

It is succulent and refreshing and sweet and brisk. It's neither saccharine nor cloying, just perfectly juicy, the faint wood and musk notes keep this from being a tropical fruit punch nightmare. It's great in the summer, and then again in the winter, to remind you of summer. 

Like all  Villainess soaps, the lather is silky-soft and as emollient as you're likely to get in bar soap, without sacrificing that 'clean' feeling. (Very emollient soaps often feel like they're leaving an ooky layer behind on my skin. With these, my skin just feels soft, not slick or overly squeaky.)

Or try Chloroform:
Chloroform is listed as having notes of "crisp cucumber, sickly sweet green vegetation, a dizzy whiff of violets, mind-numbing plum, and a stiff shot of anesthetising vermouth." To me the big standouts are the wet greens and the plum, juicy and sharp and crispy. Not my usual thing, but it's very refreshing, like napping in freshly cut crass.

Of course, the perfumes are equally amazing. As evocative as the scent-blends are in soap form, they are doubly so as actual 'fumes. And also, the CUTEST BOTTLES EVER.

Of course, I didn't even get to the wonderful scrubs! I'll save that for Part Two.

April 10, 2010

Stila Precious Pearl Palette

Two things I am a sucker for - palettes and pretty packaging. (Alliteration unintentional, I promise.) So when Stila came out with their Precious Pearl Palette, I was a sucker born and bred. I think I lasted all of a day contemplating whether it was something I needed. The colors are certainly different than a lot of spring-type collections I've seen (and no Kitten!) and the textures varied enough from the usual Stila fare to intrigue me. The inclusion of real crushed pearl seemed interesting as well. But what really hooked me was the absolutely stunning Art Deco packaging.

These swatches were done on bare skin. It gives you an idea of the deep pigmentation and vibrancy of the colors, and, of course, the beautiful shimmer finish provided by the crushed pearl. The texture is a little different from other Stila shadows I've tried in that these don't have that 'dusty' quality that some people have noted. They are very dense in the pan, yet are buttery soft to the touch and pick up very well. They can be sheered out or packed on with equal ease. They apply evenly and richly on the lids, and last.
Although all the colors are beautiful, my favorites are the cream (which looks white in the pan but applies with the loveliest opalescent golden sheen) and the blue, which paired with the pinks in this palette would make for a stunning smoky eye. The green is great as well, a very fresh seafoam shade to liven things up.
I am 100% in love with this palette and can't find a bad thing to say about it.

April 9, 2010

Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab: Part Two, Trading Post

Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab has evolved dramatically over the years. In 2002 it was a fledgeling site offering a small selection of perfumes in just seven categories, as well as incense and soap hand-made by Beth herself. In the nearly eight years since, BPAL has become a truly extraordinary experience - the catalogue itself has grown into something that takes days to peruse, not to mention the various limited edition items and charity projects featured throughout. (I can't even link to all the pages for these charity projects - there are that many!) To say Beth is a prolific, genius artist is an understatement.

I will discuss the details of all the general catalogue categories in an upcoming post - I wanted to take a moment here to introduce you to BPAL's sister site - Black Phoenix Trading Post. The Trading Post emerged in 2005, as an extension of the Lab. It began, like these things tend to do, humbly, by offering a tiny selection of thematic t-shirts. Now we have a bounty of offerings: As part of the regular catalogue bath and body catalogue, we have bath oils, atmosphere sprays, massage oils and soaps. The soaps are a collaboration with Brooke from Villainess, and are beyond delightful!

If things of a smelly nature are not your bag (the very idea of which boggles my mind), you can take your pick from nail polishes, scent lockets, i.d. cases, imps cases, leather goods, statuary, glassware, pouches and BPAL couture. If you are feeling charitable, take your pick from Neil Gaiman inspired scent lockets, t-shirts imprinted with artwork tying in with the Lab's Neil Gaiman perfume tarot series, or atmosphere sprays featuring artwork by Molly Crabapple (which correspond to the perfume series at the Lab).

On a less permanent basis, they have a few other goodies. On a monthly basis, to coincide with the Lunacy (Full Moon) updates at BPAL, the Trading Post offers up a limited edition t-shirt that mirrors the Lunacy oil for that month. The artwork featured on the shirt echos that of the perfume bottle - and like the perfume, it is available to order for only a few days, to celebrate that coming month's moon.

The Trading Post also, obviously, features limited edition perfumes and bath products - the most famous of these are the periodical Inquisitions, which allow you to "plead your case" for a particular perfume blend, which usually comes paired with a t-shirt or bath product. Aside from the Inquisitions, there are also seasonal editions of bath oils and atmosphere sprays, as well as perfume series or pairings devoted to a particular theme: for example, the current "Great Loves and Tragedies of Ancient Greece". Such is my brief introduction to the Black Phoenix Trading Post. I will be posting reviews for individual products and vintage limited edition sets shortly.

April 8, 2010

Sihaya Designs - An Introduction

I love fashion. I love magazines. I love being up on what the trends and movements are in contemporary culture. 

But I also love the uniqueness of the artisanal movement, of participating, if only as a consumer, in something that falls just a little out of step with the flow of fashion. I love owning something that was made with care and passion, something that reflects an artist's vision and heart. Something that few, if any, other people possess. Of course, not all artisanal crafts (or craftsmen) are created equal. It is possible to find shlock as easily as art, copy-cats as well as the original animal.

Still. Unearthing creative gems is half the fun of poring through the smorgasbord of handcrafted goodness that is Etsy. And lucky me, sometimes I don't even have to look that hard, as I have some extremely talented friends right under my nose.

One such friend is Christina of 
Sihaya Designs. I've been buying from her ever since she opened up her jewelry craft to public consumption. She works with a variety of influences and materials, and there's something for everyone, at every price bracket. Yet -  there's a common thread tying all her pieces together, something quintessentially Sihaya about all of them.

My favorites are the ones she makes with warm, burnished materials and naturalistic details, evocative of the lush sensuality of autumn.

Like these:

Though Christina offers a custom service, and can recreate jewelry she's made before, these are essentially unique items, priced more than reasonably for the amount of work that goes into them. If owning your own little piece of art appeals to you, I suggest you check out her site and keep your eyes peeled for future updates. 

April 4, 2010

I was introduced to the Nubar in the last year, and started salivating almost immediately over both the duochromes and the green polishes. Look at this gorgeousness!

 This is "Greener" from the Going Green collection. 

It is so stunning that I wasn't able to stop ogling my fingers. Every time I looked down I was caught off guard by just how pretty this is. 

This is not just green, it's 
emerald. Or rather, it's a blackened emerald base with very dense, very fine emerald shimmer. From far it looks like one color, but up close you can see the incredible depth that interplay between base and shimmer gives. And the rest of the colors in the collection are just as beautiful and complex. I am more than impressed by the quality and color selection available from Nubar.

And as pretty as the color is, the Diamont top coat really steps it up a notch, providing a high gloss finish that is almost like laying a piece of highly reflective glass on top of your nail. I mean, almost to the point that it makes photography difficult, because of the way it reflects everything. It's intense. It also dries within minutes, and I've had no problems with chipping. It is relatively thick, so you have to apply it fairly quickly and confidently, but it's more than worth it for that lovely gloss finish.